The Rev. Matthew A. Laferty, director of the Methodist Ecumenical Office Rome, was one of three fraternal delegates (i.e., delegates from non-Catholic churches) to participate in the opening of the Synod of Bishops on 9-10 October in the Vatican City State. In this historic moment, Pope Francis is leading an intentional, worldwide effort to reshape the Roman Catholic Church into a listening church which is discerning the Holy Spirit’s leading for the future.
According to prepartory documents:
‘Synod’ is an ancient and venerable word in the Tradition of the Church, whose meaning draws on the deepest themes of Revelation […] It indicates the path along which the People of God walk together. Equally, it refers to the Lord Jesus, who presents Himself as ‘the way, the truth and the life’ (Jn 14,6), and to the fact that Christians, His followers, were originally called ‘followers of the Way’ (cf. Acts 9,2; 19,9.23; 22,4; 24,14.22).
First and foremost, synodality denotes the particular style that qualifies the life and mission of the Church, expressing her nature as the People of God journeying together and gathering in assembly, summoned by the Lord Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit to proclaim the Gospel. Synodality ought to be expressed in the Church’s ordinary way of living and working. VADEMECUM FOR THE SYNOD ON SYNODALITY, §1.2
The opening of the synod launches a two-year process to cultivate a synodal church that “walks forward in communion to pursue a common mission through the participation of each and every one of her members. The objective of this Synodal Process is not to provide a temporary or one-time experience of synodality, but rather to provide an opportunity for the entire People of God to discern together how to move forward on the path towards being a more synodal Church in the long-term” (§1.3).
During the small group meetings, Rev. Laferty was able to share about Methodist theologies of the Holy Spirit, priesthood of all believers, Christian conferencing, and the role of laity.
Pope Francis in his homily for the Mass opening the synodal process called the Catholic church to encounter, listen, and discern. He said, “Celebrating a Synod means walking on the same road, walking together. Let us look at Jesus. First, he encounters the rich man on the road; he then listens to his questions, and finally he helps him discern what he must do to inherit eternal life. Encounter, listen and discern.” He went on to say, “The Spirit asks us to listen to the questions, concerns and hopes of every Church, people and nation. And to listen to the world, to the challenges and changes that it sets before us. Let us not soundproof our hearts; let us not remain barricaded in our certainties. So often our certainties can make us closed. Let us listen to one another.” In further reflection, he said, “[the word of God] summons us to discernment and it brings light to that process. It guides the Synod, preventing it from becoming a Church convention, a study group or a political gathering, a parliament, but rather a grace-filled event, a process of healing guided by the Spirit.”